HomeNewsArticle Display

Inside look: A sensor operator’s first weapons strike

Airman 1st Class Matthew, 15th Attack Squadron MQ-1 Predator sensor operator follows a moving target alongside an MQ-1 pilot during a training mission Dec. 5, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. Despite the remotely piloted aircraft stigma that operators don’t feel anything when conducting weapons strikes, Matthew explained he felt nervous, cold, and his heart raced during his first weapons strike in support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

Airman 1st Class Matthew, a 15th Attack Squadron MQ-1 Predator sensor operator, follows a moving target alongside an MQ-1 pilot during a training mission Dec. 5, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. Despite the remotely piloted aircraft stigma that operators don’t feel anything when conducting weapons strikes, Matthew explained he felt nervous, cold, and his heart raced during his first weapons strike in support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

Airman 1st Class Matthew, 15th Attack Squadron MQ-1 Predator sensor operator, destroys a simulated target during a training mission Dec. 5, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. Shortly after completing his extensive sensor operator training at age 20, Matthew successfully completed his first weapons strike. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

Airman 1st Class Matthew, a 15th Attack Squadron MQ-1 Predator sensor operator, destroys a simulated target during a training mission Dec. 5, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. Shortly after completing his extensive sensor operator training at age 20, Matthew successfully completed his first weapons strike. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) --

The feelings experienced during combat missions can be intense for many aircrew members. For Airman 1st Class Matthew, a 20-year-old 15th Attack Squadron MQ-1 Predator sensor operator, his first air strike was an event he will never forget. 

He became cold and his hands shook nervously as he moved the crosshairs over the target. Time dragged on inside the dark air-conditioned ground control station as he waited for the missile to explode on one of his many screens. 

Matthew recalls the experience, clearly, as the day he was suddenly thrown into his first weapons employment, a day he had been trained for, but didn’t expect so early in his career.

“We got the call from a joint terminal attack controller for a short-notice airstrike,” Matthew said. “We were tasked to hit moving vehicles. One was a motorcycle and the other was a vehicle-borne [improvised explosive device].” 

At his age, most individuals would be anxious about a job interview, college exam or a first date. Not Matthew. He was worried about supporting troops on the ground from an MQ-1 Predator, operating the Multi-Spectral Targeting System while tucked away in a ground control station in the Nevada desert.   

“Matthew had to follow the moving vehicles with a laser in order to guide the weapons while determining the escape velocity of the target,” said Master Sgt. Jesse, the 15th ATKS operations superintendent. “He would weaponeer the missile impact in order to neutralize the target and the cannon mounted in the truck.”

All of this had to be done while dealing with a one and a half second delay.

“I was really nervous and got cold all of a sudden,” Matthew said. “I didn’t want anything to go wrong or to disappoint the supporting unit or squadron. I wanted to prove myself and I had to rely on what I had been taught and practiced.”

Jesse said there are so many different variables to each weapons employment that, as sensor operators, there is a constant need to remember all of their training. Once the weapon is away, however, the entire shot comes down to the sensor operator to maintain the crosshairs and keep the weapon on target to achieve the ground commander's objective. 

The pressure was on. If he missed the target, the enemy would reach an area where coalition forces were bedded down for the night. 

Despite the pounding in his chest, Matthew’s training paid off and he successfully guided the weapons to the target, saving the ground forces and boosting his confidence sky high. 

“It was a great shot and he's had a couple more since then,” Jesse said. “It's awesome to see. I'm glad things went well as this is what we train so hard to do.”

Providing precision attack and dominant reconnaissance capabilities to the combatant commanders wasn’t what he thought he would be doing after high school.

“My brother was my recruiter and after looking at what I qualified for, sensor operator sounded the most exciting,” Matthew said. “I still wasn’t 100 percent sure what I’d be doing but I had no idea I’d be taking bad guys off the battlefield for a living.”

Matthew went on to say it’s unreal that he lives up to the military image of neutralizing enemies every day.

“This job is awesome, but stressful, yet very crucial to the military,” he said. “The information and strikes we provide are amazing. It’s those things most people don’t see or hear about that we do every day that keeps people safe.” 

While close-air support is a big part of the mission, there are other sensor operator opportunities such as raid support, intelligence gathering and combat search and rescue. After a long day of these and other mission sets, Jesse likes that he’s still able to see his family after his combat shift. “What other precision strike platform can say that,” he said.

“No other aircraft can stay aloft overhead as long as we can, let alone be as consistently precise with a (AGM-114) Hellfire,” Jesse said. “This weapons system has truly changed the way we fight wars.”

Engage

Twitter
RT @AETCommand: Doing frequent mental health check-ins could make a big difference in building resiliency. Promote wellness within yourself…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Every time I look at "Wings Through Time” by Robert Emerson Bell it’s a constant reminder that the ability to accelerate…
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: If you need help or know someone who needs help - text 838255 or call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the Military Crisis Line. Let…
Twitter
RT @US_TRANSCOM: A @usairforce KC-135 refuels a B-2 Spirit in @US_EUCOM during a bomber task force mission.Tankers fuel the required reach…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: A senior leader message during #SuicidePreventionMonth: "You are our greatest strength and the beating heart of our Air…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Congratulations to the @USAirForce’s 12 Outstanding #Airmen of the Year on earning recognition as exemplary performers i…
Twitter
RT @RealAFOSI: 1/ #DidYouKnow Sept. is Insider Threat Awareness Month? No environment is immune from the threat posed by trusted insiders.…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Sharene and I take the caring and well-being of our Airmen and their families very seriously. Thank you @AirForceAssoc fo…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Everyone wants to make their mark on the world. But why make just one? https://t.co/g1iX4pzU9b
Twitter
10 years have passed since #DontAskDontTell was repealed. @UnderSecAF Gina Ortiz Jones celebrated the milestone by… https://t.co/i1kTNvykzM
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: It’s going to take all of our Airmen, Active-duty, Reserve and Guard to secure this nation’s future. https://t.co/4P3CUiQ…
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: A few years ago, only two small businesses joined us at AFA--this year we have 40+. @AFWERX works with these companies ever…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: SecAF is meeting with defense industry leaders today during the @AirForceAssoc’s #ASC21 events. In his #OneTeamOneFigh
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Our rate of change needs to increase. We must move with a sense of urgency today in order to rise to the challenges of to…
Twitter
.@AETCommand is working to remove barriers in the pilot candidate selection process. Learn more about the changes… https://t.co/ANcqVRdsNz
Twitter
.@UnderSecAF Gina Ortiz Jones spoke on the anniversary of DADT... https://t.co/zZYqHOTp8V
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: "We are in a national, strategic, long-term contest with a formidable adversary and what you do every day is important t…
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,377,520
Follow Us